Sunday, January 18, 2009

Review: Google Apps Deciphered

Author: Scott Granneman Format: Paperback, 592 pages Publisher: Prentice Hall PTR 1st Edition (December 14, 2008) ISBN-10: 0137004702 ISBN-13: 978-0137004706 Update 3, January 21st: I've been doing a little research on Web 3.0 as it relates to Google Apps but particularly to my upcoming review of Bill Tancer's Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why it Matters. Update 2, January 20th: Interesting comparison between Google Docs and MS Office at InformIT. Update: I wonder how this story I found at Slashdot will impact Google's SAAS plan? First of all, to really appreciate this book, you'll have to become comfortable with surrendering data you'd normally have contained in apps on your hard drive onto "the cloud". You'll also have to become comfortable with surrendering that data to Google. Then again, maybe you've already gone a long way down that path without even realizing it. Let's see. What are Google apps? Do you have a Gmail account? If so, you at least have an idea about Google apps, even if you haven't used a single one. Actually, Gmail is a good place to start. You may consider Gmail no more significant than any other web-based mail system (Hotmail, Yahoo, and so on), but there's a lot more to it, at least once it becomes part of an application service. One of the goals of Gmail as part of Google apps, is to move your personal and business activity off the desktop and into the cloud...which in this case, lives in Google's data center. All of Chapter 3 of this book is dedicated to showing the reader how to migrate their emails from a variety of other platforms to Gmail. Outlook and Exchange are covered here of course, but you can also migrate from other desktop apps, such as Thunderbird and from other webmail systems, such as Hotmail. Once you've migrated from these other platforms to Gmail, the adventure isn't over. Granneman considered Gmail so important, that he dedicated Part II of the book, a total of four chapters, to the intricacies of managing communications with Gmail. While it's not quite the central theme for this book, since it's the most common Google apps used, I thought I'd start out here by way of launching this review. Of course, "cloud computing" isn't just Google's bright idea. As illustrated in this New York Times article published in September 2007, Microsoft has long been a proponent of this strategy. Google and Microsoft continue to struggle for the hearts and minds of the computing faithful throughout the world. Microsoft is the name we think of whenever we think of our computer, but Google is what enters our minds whenever we need to search. Office 2007 is Microsoft's latest foray into the office suite and it continues to be desktop based. For Google, cloud computing is here and now. The chief advantage of cloud-based applications is that they are completely hardware platform free. It doesn't matter what computer you are using to access your email or to create documents; your work exists "out there". With high speed Internet connections, both LAN and wireless being the norm, there's virtually no noticeable delay between input and output. Your work is at your fingertips in just the same way its always been. But how successful is Google in this endeavor? According to the Introduction in this book, over 3000 businesses a day sign up with Google Apps, with Google claiming over half a million companies total as Google Apps users. Ok, caveat time. These business are paying customers who use the Premier Edition of Google Apps, which is somewhat different than what you and I would have as individual freebee users. Is this author just shilling for Google, writing a book that makes Google Apps look good? When (or if) you buy this text, are you just going to be reading advertising? The beginning of the book certainly seems that way. Sure, it's not entirely blatant, but to sell the book, the reader has to be sold on the idea that Goggle Apps is something they should at least seriously consider. Otherwise, why shell out the dough in the first place? No one buys a book on Microsoft Office 2007 if they aren't planning on using the application. Of course, both Scott Granneman and Prentice Hall need to have some sort of faith in Google Apps, at least in terms of its "sellability" to create the book in the first place (though I'm willing to bet that Prentice Hall relies heavily on Microsoft Office products to generate its wares). At least as far as the first Chapter presents, there's an obvious comparison between MS Office and Goggle apps in an attempt to convince the reader that there are other alternatives besides the house that Gates built. But what about cloud computing? It's also known as Software-as-a-Service or SAAS. Chapter 2 of the book is the "real" salesperson of the text in explaining what SAAS is and how it is implemented through Google. I was a tad bit misleading earlier in the review when I implied that being a Gmail user made you a Google Apps user. While Gmail is a significant component of Google Apps, you still have to sign up separately for Google's SAAS service. The standard edition is free but you can try out the premier edition free for 30 days. The comparison list shows the stark difference between the two. I have to admit, going both through what Google Apps has to offer, and how Google's foray into cloud computing has been documented by Granneman has left me impressed. This isn't a matter of just cobbling together a bunch of different services that people already use (Gmail, Blogger, Picasa) and stamping "Google Apps" on the box. This is a completely integrated package of applications suitable for the business user, made available from the web. Just about everything you'll need to run a company's communications is available, from creating websites, to instant messaging, to managing videos. I did rather miss having something like Visio to create detailed diagrams, though. Am I convinced enough to throw caution to the winds and abandon the desktop for the cloud? No. Of course, I'm a pretty conservative person and I don't make changes quickly and easily. I use for most of my office suite needs, at least at home. On the other hand, I use Gmail extensively, as well as Blogger and occasionally Picasa Web Albums; all extensions of the Google universe. Google is already quietly entering our lives, one free, online app at a time. If you'd like to see if you should take it to the next level and consider formally running Google Apps, either as an individual or corporately, Grannerman's book would be a good place to start.

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